How contemporary fine art photography and photograph4ormat-asset.s3. ?· How contemporary fine art photography…
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How contemporary fine art photography and photography as a
study has kept theatrical Tableau Vivants threshold in its
In this essay I want to discuss the notion of Tableau Vivant and define its
different meanings. I will define Tableau Vivant as a threshold and its
materialized form and In addition covering its initial origins from live theatre
performances in auditoriums. I will also cover Tableaus Influence towards
traditional painting and contemporary fine art photography. What if we were
to consider the tableau not as an object, but as a threshold? (Newman 2008).
This quotation establishes a main discussion point, which outlines an
understanding towards the presence and meaning behind theatre and works
of art influenced by Tableau; that of its occupational space as a beholder
within an institution. To what I am proposing that theatrical Tableau as a
threshold is always present in the institution. Another key discussion towards
this is the effect of scale as an ideology.
It is important to establish what Tableau means in conjunction with theatre
and art. Its definition states, a group of people / actors arranged to represent
scenes that are silent and motionless (Oxford 2013). Derived from theatre, in
every form of Tableau there is indeed an ideal meaning, but there is no end
meaning (Barthes 1977: 72). This motionless, unified moment serves as a
purpose for critique to the beholder upon the performers.
To analyze the theatre auditorium it is important to understand the spatial
relationship between the stage and beholder. As we inherit the beholders
perspective, the space occupied by the stage is transformed as a flat frontal
plain, which inhabits clear borders in viewing and observation (Chevrier
2008). Denis Diderot (18th century art critic) states that this observation is
faithfully rendered by the painter, which would please the canvas (Diderot in
Fried 2008). This quote suggests a movement towards a physical recording of
the tableau; the physical recording places the tableau in the form of an
This physical recording comes from the decisive moment (also known as
pregnant moment) (Burgin 1986: 115). This decision is felt in the live
encounter of the play and the beholder experiences an aura from within to
determine the decisive moment, which places the tableau as a threshold.
Burgins decisive moment is also present in the work of photographer James
Coleman. His work particularly looks at vantage points in which the
performers perspective or the
beholders perspective is
viewed. The photographic work
in discussion here is titled Living
Presumed Dead [Figure 1]. It
comprises of photographic stills,
which are incorporated within a
slide projection. These
photographic stills replicate the
ideology from theatre of the
ontology of the rectangular
frame. Critically the photograph corresponds with the beholders perspective
in the live institutional viewing experience of a theatrical Tableau. The multiple
slides slowly show different tableaus being performed with an audio narrative
tape being played in conjunction. Art historian Buchloh comments Colemans
work deliberately situates itself in the discursive and institutional frameworks
of visual culture (Buchloh 2003: 106). Coleman here has purposefully
incorporated many aspects we experience within the live viewing of a
performance into a contemporary exhibited installation piece.
This installation is built as a makeshift institutional space that projects the
slideshow in a darkened room that resembles a theatre auditorium. The
projection imitates a concept theorized by Diderot of the invisible fourth wall
derived from theatre; the fourth wall being where the audience is sitting
(Brecht in Fisher in Baker 2003: 19). Is it the case then that Coleman has
established a successful live rendition of a Tableau theatrically, or can it only
exist as a reproduction to that Tableau photographically? Both options seem
plausible. The important issue is that Coleman is transferring the beholders
[Figure 1] James Coleman, Living Presumed Dead. 1983-1985
perspective of theatre into a different occupational, institutional space; that of
the contemporary gallery space. As this invisible fourth wall has now been
placed on an actual wall, it has successfully rendered the threshold of the
theatrical tableau in a materialized photographic form.
In traditional paintings of the 19th century, Tableau took form in dramatizing
that singular decisive moment and materializing it onto a canvas. A visible
frame to that of the theatrical invisible frame is now present. This visible frame
derived from the fourth wall thus acts as the paintings canvass, therefore
framed and is compacted to inherit the theatrical Tableau.
This framing can be found in the series of photographic work created by
Thomas Struth entitled Museum
Photographs. [Figure 2] entitled
Louvre 4 is a photograph taken
inside the Louvre museum, which
depicts the act of viewing. The
painting in view is titled The Raft of
the Medusa painted by Theodore
Gericault. It is inspired by tableau
as it sets a scene that is motionless
and that does not interact with the
Art critic Michael Fried talks about this work extensively and suggests there is
a dialogue between two media painting and photography (Fried 2008:
127). The dialogue he refers to is the reappearance of the auditorium and the
Tableaus threshold emerges. The observers of the photograph sit outside of
the conventions of the museum; in an Ivory Tower as it were. It is thus that the
awareness of the institutional space is depicted as the spectators are
occupying it, viewing the painting. As a result the painting in the picture is a
representation of the stage. Fried states, Every gaze out of the picture is
directed toward a distant signal of rescue (Fried 2008: 117). This form of
gaze directed away from the spectator is identical to the ethos held by stage
[Figure 2] Thomas Struth, Louvre 4. 1989
performers in Tableau. The frame then is a kind of nave dam protecting the
picture from the worlds impact (Borowski 1966: 47). This impact implies a
meeting of the figurative gaze, which cannot form, as the tableau would not
Therefore the space outside the frame is a representation of the audience.
Struths photographs attempts to bring back a certain aura and threshold from
the tableau to the observer; outside of the theatre auditorium and into the
museum. However in Louvre 4 the observers are not part of this threshold,
they only see it happening. Struths series Museum Photographs essentially
acts as a photographic study towards an evidential realization of the tableau
as a threshold existing in the museum.
The paintings in Struths Museum photographs are large scaled and this is
made aware by the spectators presence. The scale thus is crucial to the
tableau as it is imitating the large fourth wall derived from theatre.
Contemporary photographs presented as a tableau appropriate this large
scale. Is therefore size elevating the photographic image to the place and
rank of painting? (Chevrier in Finch 2013: 4). In correlation is photography
then setting an ideology in scale to replicate theatrical Tableau? In its
contemporary use yes; the cameras viewfinder, is the theatrical fourth wall
embodied. Photography is
said to also hold the tableau
as a materialized object, but
this as Jeff Wall states is
comfortably rooted in the
pictorial tradition of modern
art (Wall 1995: 32).
Jeff Walls photographic
work has his own theories
on the Tableau. Most of his
work originates from
literature, which could
compare to narratives or scripts found in theatre. [Figure 3] entitled Invisible
[Figure 3] Jeff Wall, After Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, the prologue. 1999 -
Man (shortened) bases the photograph on a concept all around the notion of
absorption and that to the theatrical tableau. Michael Frieds Absorption and
theatricality book mentions the Primacy of considerations of absorption
(Fried 1980: 15). In this quotation Fried refers to a painting, but also applies
profoundly to Walls Invisible man. The figure in shot corresponds to a
character from Ralph Ellisons novel. The character presented reveals the
invisible mans quiet absorption in his simple tasks (Fried 2008: 46). This
absorption withdraws the character to the beholder and does not attempt to
acknowledge the camera; much like the theatre performer. The passage of
text Walls photograph is based on, describes a high amount of detail within
the scene. Wall then takes it upon himself to construct a scene that mimics its
literary vision. Therefore this action of construction can be seen as cinematic,
which in cinemas essence is theatrical.
Photographic work institutionalized forms theatrical Tableaus threshold. Jean-
Francois Chevrier claims that photographic work made for the wall are termed
as tableau form. He states the work must summon a confrontation
experience on the part of the spectator (Chevrier  in Fried 2008: 143).
Scale thus provides this, as the beholder must step back to view the whole
photograph. [Figure 4] shows this scale in its Gallery institution (archival
image). The Invisible man when
exhibited reaches measurements
of 174 x 250.5 cm framed in a
transparent light box. The choice of
large scaling the photograph
places Walls (Tableau form) work
into the gallery space in which it
adopts its place for its single
purpose as fine art inside the
institution. Fine art placed in museums and or galleries function as a place of
preservation (Buren 1978: 189) as an original copy. As [figure 4] shows this
contemporary gallery space still obtains the threshold of Tableau originated
from the theatre auditorium. Walls photograph gains the tableau as a
materialized form but because its sole purpose is that for the wall, as Wall
[Figure 4] Jeff Wall. Exhibition. 2011
puts it Transforms the established photography as an institutionalized
modernist form (Wall 1995: 32). Therefore the threshold of Tableau can
never escape outside the institution.
From the stage to museums to galleries, Tableau Vivants threshold on art
has always emerged, but only concealed in its institution. Tableau as a
material fine art form has left the constraints of institute, but only in showing
others through reproduction that tableaus aura remains institutionalized.
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